So, what’s your favorite descriptor of Clayton Kershaw’s season for the ages?
(a) He became the first pitcher to win four straight major-league ERA titles.
(b) On June 18, he threw the only no-hitter in major-league history with 15 or more strikeouts and zero walks or hit batsmen, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
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(c) He produced 17 consecutive starts, from mid-June to mid-September, of at least seven innings and no more than three earned runs. It was, in that sense, the longest sustained period of pitching excellence in Kershaw’s lifetime. (The last such streak — Mike Scott had 18 in a row for the ’86 Astros — happened before Kershaw was born in 1988.)
(d) Despite missing all of April with a strained shoulder muscle, Kershaw became the third pitcher with at least 190 innings, 225 strikeouts, and an ERA+ of 150 in four straight seasons; the others are Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.
Impressive numbers. Downright historic. But I’m choosing (e) … None of the Above.
Let’s say you bought a ticket to Kershaw’s May 23 start against the Phillies, watched that game, and went on to attend every Kershaw outing for the rest of the regular season — a total of 23, all the way through his Sept. 24 matchup with the Giants.
You would’ve witnessed the no-hitter and the entirety of the 17-start streak. But even more noteworthy is what you wouldn’t have seen: Dodgers manager Don Mattingly walking out to the mound and taking the ball from Kershaw in the middle of an inning.
For those four months, that never happened. Not once. Kershaw started 176 innings, and Kershaw finished 176 innings. If he threw his warmup tosses, then he recorded the third out. There were, of course, minimal disruptions in between — in the form of traffic on the bases or conferences on the mound.
When I brought this streak to the attention of Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, he estimated that he made “less than five” trips to the mound to talk with Kershaw during those four months, for reasons other than to change signs with a runner on second base.
Kershaw’s streak is tied for the seventh longest (within the same season) over the last 40 years, according to research by STATS LLC. Here’s the full list:
Not to bring up bad memories for Kershaw and the Dodgers, but one of the more mystifying aspects of the 2014 postseason is that Kershaw was knocked out of an inning by the Cardinals in both of his NLDS starts. In other words, baseball fans hadn’t seen Kershaw knocked out of an inning in four months … and then it happened in his two biggest starts of the year.
Yet, I’d take issue with anyone who dares call Kershaw an October flop, considering his pitching lines were very good — perhaps even ace-like — through six innings in both of the starts against St. Louis. He had allowed two earned runs in Game 1 and none in Game 2 at the time the seventh inning began. Mattingly’s reluctance to pull Kershaw after six innings — or early in the seventh — was more an indictment of the Dodgers’ bullpen than unfulfilled confidence in his ace.
But let’s leave the October discussion there, because this is a week of regular-season honors. And over those final four months, the ace of aces never met an inning he couldn’t finish.